The Flowchart of Life (the most existential post ever)

Day 112 | $50,944 paid | $39,773 till freedom

When I started this challenge, I didn’t know what could happen, but I knew that no matter what did happen, I wanted to maintain two things: my health and my friendships.

I’ve been living a frugal lifestyle for almost four months now, and I’m still going downtown, spending time with my friends, even making new ones, and and I’m still working out five days a week. With the exception of my lack of dating–since I still haven’t gotten comfortable with dating cheaply–hedonistic adaptation is really starting to kick in. I don’t miss spending money and I don’t miss consumption. If anything, my life has gotten simpler.

If my bonus is what I think it will be in March, then I have line of sight to having my student loans paid off by the end of June and having critical living expenses down to about $30k/year.

Now here’s the kicker: I always thought that I would graduate with my MBA and work my way up to a high-level, $500k/year position at a company and retire when I’m 65. I’d live a life of luxury and have a powerful career. 

But after almost four months of living frugally, my mindset is beginning to change, and I can feel myself coming to a critical juncture in my life at the end of June. I realize, looking out over the next 20 to 40 years, that I don’t have to stay on this treadmill. I can turn it off and jump off. I can dare to be different.

  • Option 1: If I just keep my current level of income constant and continue to live frugally, I can actually retire at age 44 and live off the interest of my savings.
  • Option 2: I could take a lower-paying job doing something I really enjoy or something I think will make a meaningful contribution. Or I could start my own business. However, I’d potentially retire as late as age 65 or later.
  • Option 3: Stay on the treadmill.

These are revolutionary thoughts, and it’s throwing me for a hell of a loop–I still haven’t gotten my head around it, and I really, really don’t know how to think about it yet.

Below are four dramatically different directions my life can go after I pay off my student loans, including their associated penalties, rewards, and risks. (Click to zoom.)

I’ve been building that flowchart in my head for the past week, and I finally put pen to paper today and formalized it. It’s quite broad and general, so I’m sure there will be many edits coming its way, as well as many future posts about it.

This post could quite easily go on for hours, but I’m going to cut it off here; I think there’s enough meat contained within these few paragraphs and this chart for folks to chew on for several days.


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17 responses to “The Flowchart of Life (the most existential post ever)

  1. Austin

    I think you’re drawing too solid of boundaries. There are so many options in between those four choices. Staying at the job is kind of limited to those two options or a mix of the two that balances family and savings, among other things. However, the latter two options, especially the first one, are limitless, and you can make it whatever you want it to be. I’d say the one main risk would be finding what it is you need to do to feel fulfilled, and that may take time. Choosing that option doesn’t mean you can’t eventually make your way to something that mimics one of the first two options, but meets your fulfillment quota. Such a hard-lined flow chart kind of blinds you from a multitude of other possibilities and makes it seem more dire than it actually may be.

    Just my two cents.

    • Totally agree thta there are more options and more risks than presented here, and you’re right, maybe a flowchart isn’t the right way to think about this. What you’re witnessing is a slow-roasting epiphany in action.

  2. Good flowchart. What do you think about working at big time job for 5-7 more years and then moving to a lesser paid and possibly less demanding job after that. Interest income could supplement your new job and perhaps there would not be quite as many sacrifices.

    • Zeona

      I second Bill’s suggestion. Also I think you should keep in mind that keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t usually fulfilling and that life is about experiences not things. You could live under your means (but not necessarily as extreme as right now) and save for a few years, than move to a more rewarding job with a safety net and a retirement fund in place. My two cents: I am a firm believer that when you do what you love and what you’re most passionate about, success will come…so taking that rewarding job may not be a pay cut in the long run. Enjoy every moment. Good luck!

  3. Kevin

    I think it’s great that you have the newfound mindset of frugal living and living under your means. Way too many people get in over their heads living a high-consumption lifestyle so you are already on track for doing what’s smart. However, I do think you are a very smart fellow and I have no doubts that you will be highly successful in life, whether it be in your career, as a future husband and father, and as a human being in general. I think if you do manage to get that high-powered $500k/yr job, by all means go for it and spoil yourself from time to time. If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, at least you have lived a meaningful life and enjoyed what today’s modern world has to offer in travel, products, and convenience. Just keep spending way less than what you earn and you will be fine.

  4. AMBJD

    I think everything you’re starting to think about is awesome. I would really suggest taking a look at Ramit Sethi stuff on earning 1k on the side. It could be a great way to look at starting your own business and keeping your regular job. Ramit discussing the importance of having multiple revenues of income, so it could be more beneficial to keep your day job and start working on something else. Also, while you may not be able to afford his course right now since you’re saving money, Ramit has a bunch of great free stuff to start chewing into prior to June and deciding if you’re really interested in the course. Some of includes figuring out what your business should be. In fact, it was from his tweet that I learned about your blog. Finally, Ramit’s I will teach you to be rich site talks about many of these things and the importance of learning what it means to live a rich life. I think you might get a lot of benefit from checking him out.

  5. PMM

    This flow chart may not the best way to look at the future, but it’s a good start. The best part is that you see multiple paths instead of just the treadmill like so many others. I think it would be better to take your three options and imagining the worst case scenario for each. Once you see what’s the worst that could happen, I think you’ll be surprised that the risky venture doesn’t look so bad after all. If starting your own business doesn’t pan out, a smart guy like you certainly won’t be homeless. You’ll have an emergency fund ~$10k to cover living expenses for a few months while you network with your friends and family to find employment and get back on the treadmill.

    Not to sound all preachy, but I believe that life is a series of mediocre moments and failures punctuated by great successes and enjoyment. The only thing, is that our society focuses only on the successes, so much so, that we would think that failure is not an option. Failing is okay.

    On another note, I think you are putting a big limit on your fulfilling venture. I don’t know what you have in mind for this, but if you truly love what you are doing, it seems a Harvard graduate could grow it into something that pays more than $60k at best. It’s likely going to take you 1-3 years to figure out a successful business idea, and it’ll be more like $20k gross starting out. But! It could also really pay off if you were able to be acquired or have an IPO. Sure the odds of becoming the next Derek Sivers are low, but you’ve beat the odds before. You won’t know if you don’t try.


    ps. I am really enjoying watching this transformation you are going through. Although it wasn’t really the primary goal of the blog, it is far more exciting than your debt pay down. Keep it up!

  6. Alexis

    I really can’t imagine that $1 million would be enough for you to retire on at age 44, especially if you plan to have a family. Families are expensive, especially if you want to give your children advantages like private school or music lessons and travel sports teams. What about striking a balance? Work long hours and save now while you’re young (allowing for a modest increase in entertainment spending to enjoy yourself and find your future spouse). Slow down a bit when you START to have children (i.e., look for a job that still pays fairly well but doesn’t require too many evening or weekend hours or a lot of travel). That way you’ll know your children from the beginning; if you suddenly appear, full-time, in your children’s life at age 9, it may already be too late. (Children can be just as set in their ways as adults, and may be resentful of the disruption in their routines.) As children grow up, unexpected expenses will appear (e.g., sleepaway camp, braces), and continuing to work will allow you to pay for them without scrounging. Once you’ve reached whatever savings goals you set for your retirement and kids’ education, then you can cut back further to part-time work, or find a job that will make a difference in the world, or become an entrepreneur. Your kids will be well on their way, and you will have ensured that you and your wife will not be eating cat food and living on Social Security checks in your golden years.

  7. Nancy

    First of all, you know per MMM that $1M is plenty to retire on with a child. Also, being a smart/curious guy, you will most likely continue to work in a capacity that doesn’t feel like work. Currently, you are seeing through the veil of the work/consumption treadmill. I think that by the time you have kids, you’ll be able to see through all the false expenses/must haves associated with having children (“if you don’t get them into a $35K/year preschool they’ll never go to Harvard!!” but wait… you went to Harvard…), but I digress.

    Loved your flow chart. I think that FI is key, which is what you’re working toward now. I’ve considered option two, but for me, there needs to be more balance. Time is not promised, no matter how well you take care of yourself. However, option two is clearly viable. You may also be able to transition to something else that doesn’t feel like work before 44. I look forward to how your thinking on the flow chart evolves.

  8. JenN

    I notice that, while you plan to have a family, you are not taking into account any income from your spouse which might adjust your outlook on the ‘fulfilling job’ side of things.

    I also think that you may still be thinking of not having luxuries as a ‘sacrifice’ instead of just not having luxuries. $60K/year (x2 adults) with a couple kids is a comfortably middle-class income for most of the US.

  9. Brian

    I’m curious to know the mindset of your fellow MBA graduates regarding this topic. Do you feel most of them have come to the same realization, or do you believe most of them get caught up in consumption, feeling like they’re never making enough money to live their lives how they’d like to?

    As some other posters mentioned, I don’t believe you have to take it to one extreme over the other, and it’s refreshing to see your perspective evolving. Ultimately, it comes down to what you envision your ideal life (family focused, extensive travel, financial freedom, giving back to society, pursuing a passion, etc.) being and figuring out how to make that happen for you.

    As an aspiring MBA student myself, I think about a lot of these things constantly, and I enjoy hearing your reflection on having gone through the MBA process and now handling the results of it. Keep the posts coming!

  10. Not sure if you’ve read Tim Ferriss’s book 4 Hour WorkWeek, but it really changed my whole perception of “retirement”. Who cares if you retire at 44 or 65? What does “retirement” even mean to you?

    If it means sitting around the house doing nothing, well, you don’t need to wait a couple of decades to have that.

    If it means going out and “living life”, well, you don’t WANT to wait a couple of decades for that.

    I’m starting to follow TF’s idea of “mini-retirements” — taking time off during my “working years” to just do whatever I want. I took my first one this summer and now I’m starting my own business instead of going back to a corporate job. It’s harder & the money isn’t nearly as good (not yet, anyway), but I’m in control of my time, my energy, and I’m only responsible to myself. Which is exactly what I want right now.

  11. Cheryl

    I really admire what you are doing, inspirational! And I also am enjoying the transformation you are going though. I am going through a similar transformation.

  12. Spend less than you earn and invest the rest into yourself and you can accelerate to get that “freedom” faster, invest in yourself by doing or training to do what you really really really love to do, and learn how to capitalise on it as you become a specialist in your chosen niche. As for a flow chart on life, you can check out my 900+ page one at ! Enjoy!

  13. Arti

    Future post idea: an update of this flowchart discussing which option you area leaning towards. I myself am trying for the 2nd option (on a smaller scale since I make less) and it seems like you are too.

  14. I knows you’ve stopped blogging here. Perhaps you still read the comments.
    This is a good article about why not to get a job. Steve Pavlina’s

    Hope you started your own business and are doing well. Cheers

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